MIAMI (AP) — The evacuation took 12 seconds.
As bands of Hurricane Irma started making their arrival at Zoo Miami early Saturday morning, Diesel was led from his rainsoaked cage, walked a few feet into a nearby reinforced building and settled in next to another cheetah in their new temporary home with a hay-covered floor. Until Irma passes, that’s where they’ll stay.
“We’re as ready as we can be,” Zoo Miami spokesman Ron Magill said when the move was complete.
Such was the sentiment around Florida on Saturday, where zoos, theme parks, rescue centers and just about anyplace else dealing with animals were bracing for Hurricane Irma’s arrival. Five dolphins were moved from the Florida Keys to Central Florida in advance of the storm, but most zoos and the like in the Miami area said they were trying to keep their animals in place and secure from whatever Irma will bring.
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Hundreds of thoroughbreds were moved from low-lying areas of Gulfstream Park, near Miami, to other training facilities and barns farther north. Some animal shelters were relocating dogs and cats to safer facilities, and a humane society near Tampa said it needed temporary foster homes for more than 100 dogs — a necessary move since Irma’s track was headed west toward the Gulf side of the peninsula Saturday, more than originally expected.
“We live in a hurricane-prone area so our facilities are designed to accommodate these storms,” said Brian Dowling, the general curator at Lion Country Safari in Palm Beach County — a facility with lions, chimpanzees, rhinos and more, all of whom stayed put for the storm. “Obviously, everything can’t be hurricane-proof.”
Many of the animals under the care of Dowling and his staff are taken to specially built pens, designed to hold up even if nearby buildings were lost in storms or tornadoes. Others are kept more in their usual day-to-day habitat, even with the gates chained open in some cases. The reason for that, Dowling said, is simple: the animals sense when things are going wrong, and raising their own stress levels can complicate matters.
“We allow those animals to decide where they want to go,” Dowling said. “It actually reduces the stress level considerably. Their instincts tell them how to ride out the storm.”
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